This is a continuation on my theme of stories about balancing family life with the demands of coaching. These stories come from a number of Division 1 rowing coaches but could just as well come from other sports, other levels, or non-coaching careers. For those of you who have been in similar situations, hopefully these will give you a chuckle or some peace of mind that others resort to similar extremes. For those of you who consider having children someday, these stories may give you a bit of confidence that you can keep coaching although sometimes it is a challenge and you may question your decisions as they impact your team or your child. This week looks at a coach’s dedication to her team when family-life is the priority. This week looks at just what it takes to keep a coach away from race day.
It is rare for a coach to miss practice. It takes extreme circumstances for a coach to miss a competition. However, they usually go to tremendous measures to show their responsibility and commitment to their team. When my daughter was born at 7:04 p.m. on a Friday, a week early, I was on the phone with my team the following morning for their pre-race talk. I wasn’t just lying in my bed on the phone. I had to wander the hospital hallways to find cell coverage. It was not a long conversation, but I did take time to speak with each athlete, remind them of details we had already discussed and worked on in practice, and give them thoughts for the race. After that, I had a lot of bonding time with my new-born. My husband was busy with his team’s race day schedule.
Another coach describes her experience: so, my due date was May 19th. We learned of our first ever bid to the NCAA Championships on the 17th. I was hoping to somehow have the baby before the Championships so I could at least be there to watch. The Heats were on Friday, May 27th at 8 a.m. As luck would have it, my contractions started at 2:45 a.m. on that very day. So, like a diligent first timer, I kept track of the length and separation of the contractions for the rest of the night. As the intensity and duration increased and the intervals decreased, I was hoping to be able to stay home long enough to watch the race on the internet. That was not going to happen. At 7:00 a.m., I called the team. I had a chance to talk to all nine competitors, wishing them well, reminding them to stay calm, push through the pain, and of course, breathe. Saying those words did me good as I would ask them to hold when my contractions came because they were getting quite strong. As soon as we hung up, my husband and I left for the hospital. When we made it to the hospital, I was 6 cm dilated! The fact that I was so focused on getting a chance to see the race really made the first part of labor easier, and my words of advice to the team actually helped me through the rest.
In both these cases, we had known that there was a high probability if not certainty that we would not be able to attend the race. The teams had been well prepared in advance. We had ironed out the details of their pre-race routine, their race warm-up, and their race plan. We had paid even more attention to preparation than normal circumstances. We also had excellent assistant coaches to take care of details at the competition. In rowing, like all sports, success comes primarily from preparation. We are fortunate, however. Rowing is a sport in which the coach’s primary race day responsibilities are 1) checking the equipment and 2) preparing the athletes mentally before they launch. Once the boats are on the water, they are on their own. We do not call time-outs or change the plan mid-game. All the coach can do is watch. However, that does not make it any easier to miss the competition.